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Step-by-step approach has Miller on path towards U.S. Open

Staff Photo: David Friedlander Allison Miller hopes to take the next step towards a spot in the U.S. Open's main draw at the U.S. Open National Playoff qualifying event in New Haven, Conn., in August. The 17-year-old Peachtree Corners resident won the USTA's Southern Section of the event earlier this month in Sandy Springs.

Staff Photo: David Friedlander Allison Miller hopes to take the next step towards a spot in the U.S. Open's main draw at the U.S. Open National Playoff qualifying event in New Haven, Conn., in August. The 17-year-old Peachtree Corners resident won the USTA's Southern Section of the event earlier this month in Sandy Springs.

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Staff Photo: David Friedlander Allison Miller practices recently at Avocet subdivision tennis court in Peachtree Corners. Miller hopes to take the next step towards a spot in the U.S. Open's main draw at the U.S. Open National Playoff qualifying event in New Haven, Conn., in August. The 17-year-old Peachtree Corners resident won the USTA's Southern Section of the event earlier this month in Sandy Springs.

As much success as Allison Miller has enjoyed over the years, she still considers her junior tennis career to be a step-by-step work in progress, especially over the last year.

So, the 17-year-old Norcross resident's championship at the 2013 U.S. Open National Playoffs Southern Qualifying Tournament just over a month ago at the Sandy Springs Tennis Center can be considered to be a major step forward.

"I've been playing tennis as long as I can remember," Miller said recently when reflecting on her title, which she secured with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 win over Roswell's Laura Patterson in the finals May 30. "When you've been playing so long, sometimes you don't notice (how far you've come). I'm still trying to grow my game and get better.

"This is one of the first tournaments I've actually won (this year). I've played in some tough junior tournaments, so it's good to actually win one."

Indeed, the title at the U.S. Open Playoff Southern Sectional was a major step forward for Miller, who attends Rivers Academy in Alpharetta and trains at Tennis Academy of the South in Sandy Springs.

It came a year after advancing as far as the quarterfinals of the same tournament by eventual runner-up and University of Alabama All-American Mary Anne Macfarlane.

Since then, the rising senior, who is verbally committed to play college tennis at Notre Dame, has seen her USTA ranking in the Girls 18 division rise as high as No. 4 in the state of Georgia and No. 33 nationally.

And she says the main force behind such a rise can be traced to a new, more proactive attitude she's brought to the court.

"I've worked hard on my game all year," Miller said. "I improved a lot from last year when I was playing in the tournament. I've just worked on playing more aggressive. I was one of the younger girls in the tournament last year, and I was still young this year. But I had enough experience, and that helped."

It also helped that amidst a field that included several current college players and even a few touring WTA professionals, Miller not only faced a fellow youngster in the form of rising Roswell High School senior Patterson, but one whom she was very familiar with.

"I got to play my friend Laura Patterson in the finals," Miller said. "We've been playing each other since we were 10 years old."

As big a step as the title was for Miller, it's only one of several she hopes to take as the summer progresses, with the championship having earned her a chance at the two biggest steps of all.

The next big step is the U.S. Open National Playoffs, where she will face 12 other sectional champions in a tournament Aug. 16-19 at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

A win would earn Miller a wild card entry into the U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament from Aug. 20-23 in Flushing, N.Y., where would have a chance to win a spot in the main draw of the U.S. Open.

But first things first.

"It's a unique tournament," Miller said of the U.S. Open National Playoffs. "There will be a lot of great players there to get through, including some with WTA rankings. (Making the U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament) is a neat thing to think about, but I'm really just focusing on one match at a time."